Higgins to discuss Covid vaccine inequality with pope in Rome

President will also talk about climate change in his third meeting with pontiff

Pope Francis and President Michael D Higgins meeting in the Vatican, May 2017. Photograph: PA Wire

Pope Francis and President Michael D Higgins meeting in the Vatican, May 2017. Photograph: PA Wire

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President Michael D Higgins will discuss climate change and development issues with Pope Francis at a meeting in the Vatican on Friday morning.

The audience with the pontiff will be the third meeting between the two men. The President is also expected to discuss the inequalities associated with the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, especially in developing countries in Africa.

President Higgins said this week that Europe had “failed Africa” when it came to sharing vaccines and he would have an opportunity to discuss these issues with the pope.

Ahead of the audience, he said the pope’s “deep reflections on issues such as development and climate change have been such an inspiration to us all”.

The President will be accompanied to the Vatican by Ireland’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Derek Hannon.

He will present the Pope with a Bata Iascaire, or Fisherman’s Stick, made on Inis Mór, by artist Lochlainn Cullen, who took a local blackthorn stick and wove it with special cotton, using knots drawn from fishing. The spiral is called St Mary’s Hitch, and consists of three interwoven strands representing the divine trinity.

On Thursday, Mr Higgins met Qu Dongyu, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Climate-based famine

In their exchanges, President Higgins praised Irish people who had paid a high price in their roles assisting the victims of conflict, hunger and poverty.

He warned that current conflicts and climate-based famines are putting millions of people at risk. He said the shortfall in the funding needed to respond effectively to such famines was “a global concern of the greatest order”.

The meeting also discussed issues of production and food security, and the need for an ecological and sustainable approach.

The President remarked that food security is a key global challenge in which everyone needs to play a part. He emphasised that food systems should focus not only on production but also on the cultural, ecological and heritage dimensions.

President Higgins highlighted that indigenous people, comprising less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, currently protect 80 per cent of global biodiversity. “It is important to acknowledge this fact and learn lessons from their management of natural resources which is based on an explicit connection between economy and ecology,” he said.